The Challenges of Instructional Leadership School Renewal

Article excerpt

Two major publications addressed the issue of reforming American mathematics education in 1989. These reports proposed wide-ranging, radical changes in mathematics learning and teaching. Everybody Counts: A Report to the Nation on the Future of Mathematics Education written by the National Research Council in 1989, concluded that ineffective mathematics education posed a potential threat to America's economic security in a technological world. Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics, written by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (1989), echoed similar views and drafted recommendations intended: (I) to expand school mathematics away from "shopkeeper's arithmetic"; (2) to include mathematics meaning congruent with the needs of the 21st century; and (3) to establish instructional beliefs and practices based on the epistemological foundations of constructivism.

The need and direction for instructional reform in mathematics was clearly documented in 1989. However, there was not a large body of research about how educational reform in mathematics was experienced in practice. A few studies indicated that new classroom cultures and learning/teaching theories can be implemented successfully (Cobb & Bowers, 1999; Cobb & Yackel, 1996; Hiebert, Carpenter, Fennema, Fuson, Human, Murry, Olivier & Wearne, 1996). Despite some research on the subject of implementing NCTM Standards, there was still a need to learn more about how these instructional reforms are led by educators and received by school communities.

The intention of the research reported in this paper was to share the processes a school community and school leaders (principal, assistant principal, teacher-leaders) in a K-4 elementary school created to reform mathematics instruction. In particular, the case study reports the complex and dynamic nature of a shift from behaviorist teaching methods toward constructivist methods. The case study exposed the changing nature of classroom environments, where teachers created learning opportunities for students to make sense of doing significant mathematics through social interaction, dialogue, and mathematical modeling. The research revealed transformation in leadership strategies and changes in teachers' roles and relationships.


The study was guided by qualitative design and constructivist inquiry from Guba and Lincoln (1994), Lincoln and Guba (1985). The methodology attempted to investigate the dynamics of school change within the assumption "that the issue at hand turns in some way on the ways in which individuals conceive of or construe their world." (McCracken, 1988. p. 59) Overall, the study tells the story of educators' efforts to lead instructional reform in mathematics education according to NCTM Standards (1989, 1991, 1995) and constructivist learning theory (Cobb & Bowers, 1999; von Glasersfeld, 1995) in an elementary K-4 school.

Setting and Participants

The K-4 elementary school is located in an affluent and racially/culturally diverse suburb bordering a large Midwestern U.S. city. The school enrolls 525 students (65% African-American, 30% white and 5% other racial or multiracial groups). The school has 25 classroom teachers, five special area teachers (art, music, physical education, and library), three learning disability teachers, six tutors for language arts, two kindergarten literacy tutors, an assistant principal and a principal. The average class size is 22 students.

Data collection included interviews, observations, surveys, and documents from educators, parents, students and support staff. Data collection and data analysis were guided by Lincoln and Guba's (1985) constant comparative method. Patterns and themes that emerged can be summarized as: 1) Teachers as Leaders and Change Agents, 2) Role of Principals, and 3) Role of Parent and Students. …